Buzzfeed in the UK: are kittens, owls and boy bands the media's future?
The UK launch of BuzzFeed promises more fun fluff that attracts 40 million hits a month. Oscar Williams-Grut reports
Sunday 24 March 2013
Any hip 20-something who logs on to list-loving social media site BuzzFeed tomorrow – and thousands around the world do daily – they will notice something a little different.
Alongside pieces like "29 Baby Animals George W Bush Should Paint Next" and "Cats Offering Helpful Advice To Lindsay Lohan" will be "The Autocorrect Map Of Britain" and "18 Weird And Wonderful British Foods You Need To Try".
Monday marks the launch of BuzzFeed UK, the first overseas office of the wildly popular American website that has been hailed as either the death knell or the future of the media.
Founded in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, who was also one of the brains behind Huffington Post, BuzzFeed calls itself the "first true social news organisation" and specialises in "shareable content". In practice, this means lists of cute animals, photos of celebrities and lots of nostalgia.
The formula has proved wildly successful, so that the company has been valued at $200m (£130m), and in January BuzzFeed raised $19.3m to expand to London, a move its president, Jon Steinberg, called "the natural next expansion" as, after the US, most traffic comes from Blighty.
"We're not radically reinventing what BuzzFeed does," says Luke Lewis, the UK editor. "We're taking all the stuff that's done phenomenally well in the US and just giving it a British spin."
From his London office, Lewis and the three other members of the UK team have been working on what this means in practice.
"There's going to be a lot to do with nostalgia – one of the first posts we're publishing is looking at Nineties boy bands and where they are now," says Lewis, formerly the editor of NME.com. "We'll also be doing a fair bit on animals which is one of the things BuzzFeed is known for. There are lots of British animals that they've never written about: foxes, badgers, owls."
It may not sound like the forefront of the press but it is content like this that has helped the US site record over 40 million views a month. BuzzFeed, which has around 70 editorial staff in the US, recently branched into long-form and political journalism, but Lewis says the UK office won't be doing anything similar, for now at least.
"The idea is for it to be based on pop culture and British obsessions," he says. "The one article we've already published is bizarre cover lines from British real life mags like Take a Break. We're just finding corners of British culture that are funny and entertaining." It is this cultural focus that Lewis thinks will help BuzzFeed UK avoid the kind of damp squib debut suffered by Peretti's first venture, the Huffington Post.
Lewis says BuzzFeed's audience is "20-somethings obsessed with pop culture and immersed in the social web", a demographic with obvious appeal for advertisers. The US site has pioneered paid-for advertorials that are designed to be shared just like its regular content. But the UK operation will be purely editorial.
"The commercial side of it is further down the line," Lewis says. "The idea is just building up an audience and spreading the word of BuzzFeed in the UK. It's a fairly unpressured environment."
Lewis accepts that fluffy animals and advertorials might not be everyone's idea of the future of the media. "We're not here to tell anyone else how to do anything," says Lewis. "BuzzFeed has its own way of doing things. I wouldn't presume to tell anyone else what to do."
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